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Fairness in Sports and Transgender Youth

by Beth Sherouse March 03, 2016

Texas public school superintendents bucked national trends and possibly violated federal law last month when they voted to require high schools and middle schools to use students’ gender as marked on their birth certificates to determine participation on sports teams.

The policy represents a step backward in the context of other states that are moving toward more trans-inclusive athletics policies, and it also flies in the face of recent interpretations of federal sex discrimination laws. In recent years, the Department of Education has interpreted Title IX––a provision of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits discrimination in federally funded education on the basis of sex––to protect transgender students in athletics programs.

With increasing evidence pointing to the benefits and importance of affirming transgender children’s identities, policies like the one in Texas essentially make it impossible for transgender youth to participate on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. In order for a transgender girl to play on the girls’ soccer team, for example, she would have to get a new birth certificate, a process that can be prohibitively expensive and in some cases requires proof of hormone therapy and/or gender confirmation surgery, which may not be available, affordable or desirable for many transgender children and teens.

Arguments against transgender youth and adults participating in sports consistent with their identities tend to center on the false assumption that transgender girls or women will have athletic advantage over cisgender girls or women because of physiological or hormonal differences. But in reality, we know that people of any gender can vary widely in terms of body type, strength and athleticism. In other words, there are cisgender high school girls who are tall, muscular and have high levels of testosterone.

What is important is that all youth who want to play sports are able to do so in contexts where their identities are respected and affirmed. For information on supporting transgender students in schools, including sports and other sex-separated activities, check out Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools.

Beth Sherouse
Beth Sherouse


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